2 Republicans possibly vie to lead state
Party squabbling possible due to Trump loyalties
AUSTIN, TEXAS | Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick brushed aside speculation of a 2018 gubernatorial run at the end of Texas’ last legislative session, insisting he’d never challenge his “close friend” and fellow Republican Greg Abbott.
But more than 18 months after that declaration to reporters — which came without anyone actually asking about a potential intraparty clash — Mr. Patrick has meticulously moved to the governor’s right on many issues that GOP primary voters hold dear.
Mr. Patrick fully embraced Donald Trump before the election, while Mr. Abbott kept his distance. The lieutenant governor also has become Texas’ leading social conservative voice, promising to impose strict state transgender bathroom rules, promoting school vouchers and blaming Black Lives Matter for encouraging anti-police sentiment.
Mr. Patrick is a tea party-backed, fiery former conservative talk radio host, while the governor is a lawyerly, ex-Texas Supreme Court justice who appeals more broadly to traditional Republicans. Both are downplaying possible intraparty gubernatorial fight that could send shock waves through America’s second-largest state, while also giving no indication they won’t simply seek re-election to their perspective posts in two years.
Still, hints of Abbott-Patrick discord could reshape the session for Texas’ GOPcontrolled Legislature, which convenes for the first time since 2015 on Jan. 10. Mr. Abbott can fast-track legislation, while Mr. Patrick oversees the state Senate.
Such tensions were on display last session, when a grass-roots advisory board convened by Mr. Patrick attacked Mr. Abbott’s signature expansion of pre-kindergarten statewide, claiming it imposed “godless” classroom environments on youngsters.
“Is there somebody out there who wants the lieutenant governor to primary the governor? I’m sure somebody does,” said Patrick strategist Allen Blakemore. “But the only person who really matters is Dan Patrick. And Dan Patrick has stated over and over again that he has no desire to be governor.”
Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said: “This is nothing more than fake news.”
It’s a possibility some Texas politicos nonetheless are discussing. They note that Mr. Patrick would be expected to shun a possible gubernatorial run right up to the moment he changes his mind and actually announces one, while Mr. Abbott has to shrug off a hypothetical primary challenge publicly while preparing privately for one, just in case.
Though 2018 is a long way off, that cycle will begin gearing up shortly after the Texas legislative session ends on June 1.
“I hear there’s friction,” said Carl Tepper, a West Texas grass-roots activist who was a Trump delegate to the Republican National Convention.
Mr. Tepper said he doesn’t believe there will be an Abbott-Patrick primary showdown but that some Trump loyalists remained unhappy with Abbott.
The governor vocally supported Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential bid but was wary of Mr. Trump. Mr. Abbott long wouldn’t mention the billionaire businessman’s name, saying only that he’d support his party’s presidential nominee. Mr. Patrick, who also originally backed Mr. Cruz, quickly became the state’s top Trump cheerleader after the senator dropped out.
Todd Smith, a consultant for Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, another top Texas supporter of Mr. Trump, noted that the coolness of some Republicans toward the party’s White House nominee sparked “frustration and tension.”
Mr. Smith said that may have contributed to Mr. Trump’s winning Texas by only 9 percentage points, the first GOP presidential candidate since 2000 not to take the state by double digits.
“I think the Republican base in Texas appreciates loyalty,” Mr. Smith said, “and I think they appreciate folks not being wishy-washy.”
Just ask Mr. Cruz, who has seen his popularity slip in Texas since refusing to endorse Mr. Trump at the Republican National Convention, even though he eventually came around. Associated Press exit polling from Election Day showed slightly more than half of statewide voters holding unfavorable opinions of the senator.
There’s no indication Mr. Abbott’s standing has suffered. But so far Mr. Patrick has been out front in setting much of the 2017 legislative agenda. He has vowed Texas will ban transgender people from using public bathrooms of their choice, despite a similar North Carolina law sparking national uproar.
Texas Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick has vowed a bathroom policy similar to North Carolina’s controversial transgender measure.